Editor’s gun test: Walther Century Varmint
- Credit: Archant
Is this unusual rifle package worth the weight?
Some time has passed since Walther wowed the world with the LGU spring-piston rifle that moved European springers on in terms of what could be offered straight from the box, and now their extensive spring-powered line up is impressive, to say the least. In the middle we find the break-barrel Century, a big beefy job that is a particular favourite of their UK importer, Armex. This is a proper chunk of steel that you just know is built to last and will take the knocks in the hunting field, and Armex wanted to offer it as a package, which is what we see here. The ‘Walther Century Varmint .22 Synthetic Thumbhole’ is a long and silly name for a simple and straightforward rifle. Does anybody in the UK even know what a varmint is? I guess the USA to UK translation would be vermin, so I agree that they should have stayed with the American English in this case.
The package delivers the rifle, an Armex Backdraft silencer, plus an Enfield 3-9 x 40 scope, mounts and gun slip all for around £420, which seems like very good value for money. Of course, the beating heart of the package is the rifle, which is in most respects a very straightforward break-barrel springer, with one very noticeable exception. At the front of the breech block is a small lever that projects forward, which unlocks the barrel from its in-line position. This mechanism assures us that the barrel will lock up in exactly the same place every time and cannot be unlocked, even for a millisecond, by the rifle’s recoil and because off this, accuracy should be enhanced.
The Century is offered in a classic wooden sporting stock as well as the ambidextrous synthetic thumbhole one you see here. I’m not a fan of thumbholes, but I found this one comfortable and well designed. All too often, thumbholes have skinny pistol grips that fail to fill your hand fully, but this one has a deep palm swell that located my hand well and delivered my index finger nicely to the blade. Even better than this, the cheek piece is set high, and supported my face well as I viewed the target through the scope. No open sights are supplied, so setting the comb for scope use only makes perfect sense, whils improving the rifle’s handling. Synthetic stocks are tough and can shrug off bad weather easily and this one is slim and wieldy as befits a proper hunting gun, rather than a target range wannabe. To top all that, it’s a good-looking stock and that counts for a lot in the real world.
The rifle feels big in your hands, but the pull length is just 13¾”, some ¾” shorter than standard, which is odd. With the weight of the Backdraft moderator way out front, the balance point is 7” in front of the trigger blade, which is highly unusual. I think this is partly down to the scope fitted being so light. A scope with a 30mm tube and a 50mm objective lens would bring the balance point back to a more conventional position. That being said, I found the handling very pleasant with the sights coming onto the target in a very natural way. I think this all points to a well-designed stock with a high cheek piece, something I bang on about at every opportunity. Stability on aim was good but no surprise, with so much weight out front. The concave soft rubber butt pad is a double edged sword for me, in that when in the shoulder it locks you in firmly, but it often snags your clothes whilst you’re mounting. Win some, lose some, I guess. Up front, the fore end slot is short because Walther employs an articulated cocking linkage, and this keeps the stock good and rigid, allowing its neat and slender design.
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A downside of this and most thumbholes is that to disengage the automatic safety you need to take your thumb out of the stock, move the slide and put your hand back, which makes for unnecessary movement. In the sporting stock, the safety is perfectly placed to be thumbed off as you come to the aim in a very natural movement. The safety can be reset manually and, for me, is one of the best I’ve ever used.
You cannot have failed to notice the huge Backdraft moderator enveloping the barrel. I say enveloping because it’s a reflex design that slides over the barrel some 6”, with another 3” projecting forward from the muzzle crown. This is surely one of the biggest airgun moderators ever offered and at 300 grammes, one of the heaviest as well. When I pressed Armex about why they chose these dimensions they said that it offers superb noise suppression and well, it just looks cool! You can’t argue with that kind of honesty.
On top of the dovetails machined into the cylinder, Armex has included an Enfield 3-9 x 40 which is a versatile yet simple design. There are no mil-dots, illumination or parallax adjustment, which helps to keep the cost down. However, if I were buying this rifle, I’d choose something further up the Enfield range that better suited the high performance and quality that the Century delivers. The mounts supplied didn’t look too substantial so I called Armex and asked for some more heavy-duty ones to be told, “No – the ones supplied will be just fine.”
‘I’ll be the judge of that,’ I thought. Well, I shot the rifle though the chronograph, zeroed it, and shot groups for several hours and do you know what? The mounts didn’t move at all! I put a strip of masking tape against the rear mount and as you can see from the pictures no movement could be seen. That showed me then!
So, so smooth
During this process, I noted that the rifle is supremely smooth and quiet to cock, perhaps the quietest I’ve ever heard, or should that be not heard? It feels like a well-tuned rifle that’s had 10 tins of pellets through it. The firing cycle is also smooth and quiet and that credit must be shared between some clever internal wizardry to remove friction, and damp down spring vibrations and, of course, the huge Backdraft silencer.
Next, we come to the XM match grade trigger, which is a fine unit. I found it predictable and smooth, qualities I value highly because they aid accuracy and that is pretty much all I care about when all’s said and done. The blade is unusual in that it uses a U-shaped channel in its construction to increase stiffness and decrease weight. The low weight helps it to pass the drop test in which a cocked rifle is dropped hard onto its butt pad. A heavy trigger blade is more likely to fire the action than a light one. It’s just a shame that that the adjustment screw is so large and prominent that, quite frankly, it looks ugly. If it were my gun, I’d swap it for something much more discreet and I’m sure that after-market accessory companies will soon be offering just such a thing. It’s adjustable for first-stage travel and let-off weight, but I was completely happy with it straight from the box.
The chronograph read 560 fps with my standard test pellet, the Air Arms Field Diablo that weighs 15.9 grains in the test gun’s .22 calibre. This equates to 11.2 ft.lbs. which is just right because it may well increase as the rifle runs in, and the owner will stay on the right side of the UK legal power limit. There was literally no sign of dieseling either in visible smoke or its tell-tale smell. This makes me wonder if I was not the first person to shoot this rifle. Shot-to-shot consistency was 11fps over 50 shots with pellets straight from the tin.
So, so accurate!
The most important part of any rifle test is accuracy and I’m delighted to say that my hopes were exceeded and this is one of the most accurate springers I’ve shot recently. At 25 yards off a bench I was getting shot after shot thought the same hole, with the odd shot opening the group to 3/8”. That’s superb accuracy for a rifle of this kind and better then a few pre-charged pneumatics (PCPs) I’ve tested. Shooting springers isn’t what I’m best at, being a soft, spoilt PCP man these days, but I was doing well with this Century and enjoying myself in the process.
It’s well known that shooting any spring/piston gun needs skill and practice, yet from a rest I was soon relaxed and getting impressive accuracy. I know the gun is capable of this and I wonder if all the weight of the Backdraft was making that more available to the average shooter – an unintentional benefit perhaps.
This package offers top performance at a good price and seen in that light is a winner, but as mentioned, I’d want to look further up the Enfield catalogue for a smarter model scope and perhaps mounts that would suit the obvious performance the Century is capable of offering. That being said, I could hunt with it without question and would go into the field with confidence with this package in hand.
Tel: 0121 643 4900
Trigger: Two-stage adjustable
Length: 44” (112cm)
Weight: 9.4lbs (4.12kg)
We also tested the Armex Walther Rotex RM8 Varminter Kit - see the review here.